Tracking the Tract House

A print collector recently contacted AHPCS asking if we could provide any insight into two 1849 Nathaniel Currier prints lacking the predictable 152 Nassau Street address. (James Ives didn’t become a partner until 1857.)

For a typical 1849 Currier print, like Louisa below, one expects to see “152 Nassau St.” printed somewhere in the bottom margin:

 

These addresses are useful on undated prints because they offer a clue to the time of publication:

1834-35Stodart & Currier137 Broadway
1835Nathaniel Currier1 Wall Street
1836-37Nathaniel Currier148 Nassau Street
1838-56Nathaniel Currier152 Nassau Street and 2 Spruce Street
1857-65Currier & Ives152 Nassau Street and 2 Spruce Street
1866-72Currier & Ives152 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street
1872-74Currier & Ives125 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street
1874-77Currier & Ives123 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street
1877-94Currier & Ives115 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street
1894-96Currier & Ives108 Fulton Street and 33 Spruce Street
1896-1907Currier & Ives33 Spruce Street

This chart looks busy, but all of the addresses are located within a mile of each other in New York City. In the case of 148-152 Nassau and 2 Spruce Street, the addresses actually refer to the same property located on the southwest corner of Printing House Square in New York City.

Why, then, our recent emailer asked, do the bottom margins of two companion prints by artist John Cameron: The Crucifixion / La Crucificazion / La Crucifixion and The Resurrection / La Resureccion del Senor / La Resurrection have the credit line: “Published by N. Currier, Tract House, N.Y.”?

 

N. Currier, The Crucifixion / La Crucificazion / La Crucifixion (Lithograph, 1849). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

N. Currier, The Resurrection / La Resureccion del Senor / La Resurrection (Lithograph, 1849). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the entry for The Resurrection in the standard reference Currier & Ives Prints. An Illustrated Check List, author Frederick Conningham parenthetically notes: “The only print I have seen with this address.”

Where was the Tract House, and what was Nathaniel Currier doing there?

A little detective work took us down a circular path. The “Tract House” building was, in fact, 144-152 Nassau Street.

The American Tract Society (ATS), a religious publishing organization founded in 1825, owned the southeast corner lot at Nassau and Spruce Streets (144-152 Nassau Streets). ATS was Currier’s landlord and, in 1847, they erected a five-story building, a new “Tract House.” A detail from an 1870s stereograph shows the building (after Currier & Ives had moved down the block to 125 Nassau) complete with a “Tract House” sign:

Detail of Statue of Franklin. New York City [Stereograph, ca. 1870s]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

So why did Currier (apparently) only use the “Tract House” address for those two religious prints? An answer comes from art historian Elizabeth Gilmore Holt in a 1972 paper on revivalist themes in American prints: “Currier received a contract from the American Tract Society for two folio-size prints, one the Crucifixion, the other Resurrection” (page 45).

“Tract House” tied the print back to the ATS but also reflected Currier’s actual address. “Tract House” was also a clear enough landmark that there are contemporary newspaper advertisements for other businesses locating themselves at the “Tract House” in the late 1840s.